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What's the future of homegrown social networking sites?

Update: November, 17/2019 - 08:24

By An Phương


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

Lotus, a made-in-Việt Nam social media platform, debuted about two months ago. Together with recent launches of Gapo and Hahalolo and six other platforms that have yet to be introduced, I wonder if these homegrown social media apps can bring real value to Vietnamese users? Will they last?

As a social media enthusiast, I have been trying the beta version of Lotus since September. Since this app was developed by over 200 technical engineers at Việt Nam Communications Corporation (VCCorp), my expectations for Lotus have been quite high.

“Lotus takes a different path from other social networks, striving to be a content-centric platform that gives users freedom to be creative and produce more quality content,” Nguyễn Thế Tân, CEO of VCCorp, has said.

A friend of mine, Thanh Quý, 26, said: "That explains why Lotus has received support from many celebrities and local influencers in various fields such as beauty, travel, lifestyle and sports, among other categories."

“The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about Lotus was its name! It is sort of encouraging national pride among Vietnamese people,” he said, adding that technology companies in the country this year have stepped up their game.

As I talked to Quý and other friends, I realised that young audiences are very supportive of homegrown social networking sites, not only Lotus, but also Gapo and Hahalolo.

“Since I’m eager to learn about what Vietnamese social networks have to offer, I’ve downloaded all three of them,” Thanh Thanh, Quý’s twin sister, said.

Though they both have been excited to use homegrown social platforms, especially Lotus, they had to admit that they couldn’t keep up with them on a daily basis as they had always done with Facebook and Instagram.

I totally understand. In fact, my concern is that after using Vietnamese social sites for a while, I have to admit that their user interface is not as interactive and friendly as their international counterparts.

“As much as I appreciate the efforts of the Lotus production team, the site is quite plain, which kind of discouraged me to keep updating on it,” Minh Tâm, 23, said.

Quý agreed and added that he was not able to familiarise himself with some Vietnamese words or expressions used on the app.

“I know it’s quite silly to say so, but I’m better with the English terms such as 'follower' instead of its Vietnamese translation 'fan của bạn' used in Lotus. These lengthy Vietnamese terms are quite distracting and unnecessary,” he said.

Since Lotus and other Vietnamese social media platforms are in their early stage, not to mention that most locals still haven't felt the need to create meaningful content on them, it’s rather early to jump to the conclusion that they cannot "beat" Facebook and Instagram in the future.

“So far, I’m trying all those apps out of curiosity, not because I really need them,” Thanh Thanh said.

“I’m currently active on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Zalo. With the screen time of about six hours a day, both for work and entertainment, it’s redundant for me to constantly update on another similar networking site,” she said.

“Of course, I won’t deny the fact that each local social app embraces different aspects of online communication, such as Lotus with its focus on professional content and the ability to earn money from tokens. It’s just that I’m lazy!” she added.

Meanwhile, Anh Quang, 31, said that it was unfortunate that Lotus was introduced quite late. 

“I opened my Facebook account about 10 years ago. Though I’m not as active as I used to be, I’m glad to be able to keep in touch with my old friends," he said.

“With all my close friends already being there, I find that there's no reason to use another platform just to chat with them.” 

Quang also wondered if it was necessary to have a Vietnamese app merely for Vietnamese, while the trend is actually to be more global.

The Lotus slogan, in fact, is in line with its mission to create a meaningful platform for Vietnamese.

“I have seen WeChat, and how it thrives in China. However, this only applies when we don’t have other social media options. I will forever support homegrown products, but I just need to see whether all my close friends will use them,” Quang added.

This made me think of the successful case of Zalo and how popular this Vietnamese app has become, given that locals were probably hesitant to use it in the first place. Though introduced in 2012, and a latecomer compared to Whatsapp, which debuted in 2009, Zalo has proven to be a super social networking app in Việt Nam.

“Zalo started out as a messaging app and later became integrated with social networks, offering better user experience and optimal speed, so users had the time they needed to gradually make Zalo an inseparable part of their social life,” Tâm said.

“Obviously, not so many people at first decided to go for Zalo. However, as Zalo is not as personal as Facebook, and necessary updates have made Zalo very efficient in exchanging information at the workplace, my friends have not hesitated to download the app.”

So, special benefits that are truly meaningful to people’s lives are key to the success of homegrown social apps.

“According to my research, there are some significant benefits that we can gain from developing homegrown social apps.” Quý said.

“Homegrown apps run by local companies can offer more accurate, detailed information about domestic matters compared to Google, which uses data supplied by overseas firms. Not to mention, this information makes it easier for local apps to match, rank and filter content that is truly meaningful for users.

“We also cannot forget that homegrown apps offer better security and economic benefits.”

Despite initial curiosity and even hesitation to pursue Vietnamese social networking platforms, I genuinely believe homegrown social apps such as Lotus, Gapo and Hahalolo, equipped with the right development and proper marketing, will become a trusted domestic source of online communication, and will soon secure their place in our life.

Fingers crossed. VNS

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